Don’t Hate— Vaccinate— (Before it’s too Late)
As of February 21st, the CDC have confirmed 159 cases of Measles spanning across 10 states — including Texas, and many cases of measles in the US occur in populations of people who, for various reasons, have chosen not to get vaccinated.
Vaccines are considered by most to be one of the most successful public health interventions in history. Vaccines work by priming the immune system to fight by exposing it to a weakened version of a disease-causing agent, or antigen. The body can then have an immune response by creating antibodies to combat these antigens. The body is then able to recognize and fight the full-strength version of the antigen if it ever encounters it.
The first vaccine was designed in 1796 by Doctor Edward Jenner to combat smallpox,. Jenner noticed that the milkmaids of the time who had been exposed to Cowpox, a disease very similar but less lethal than smallpox, were not affected by the more deadly smallpox. He isolated materials from those infected by cowpox and it was introduced into others via scratches in their arms. Those who had been exposed to the Cowpox then showed resistance to Smallpox, and thus, the first vaccine was born. Since this time, vaccines have been much more highly regulated and researched and as a result, many more diseases now have safe and effective vaccines available to combat them. However, despite this protection, some people still choose not to get vaccinated.
Religious and cultural concerns provide possible reasons that people choose not to get vaccinated; however, there are also some widespread myths which influence people’s decision to vaccinate. One well known claim is that vaccinations can cause autism. This claim stems from a now debunked study which was published in 1998 by a group of researchers in London. It was later discovered that one of the researchers was being paid by lawyers seeking to file lawsuits against companies that manufacture vaccines. The research has since been shown to be flawed, and its claims have been revealed as false by multiple studies published since the original 1998 paper. Unfortunately, these incorrect “facts” have since been parroted by multiple celebrity sources, many of whom have used their visible status to overshadow the actual findings of expert researchers who have discovered absolutely no link between vaccinations and autism.
Another popular argument by those who disagree with vaccinations is that requiring people to be vaccinated infringes upon bodily autonomy and parental rights, and that the individual or parent should be able to control things which only affect themselves and their children. However, this argument does not consider the concept of herd immunity. This concept is an important justification for vaccination, but it is not always very well explained. The premise of herd immunity is in a community where most people are vaccinated, the immunity of the herd prevents disease from infecting and spreading between unvaccinated individuals easily. However, if not enough people are vaccinated, herd immunity is weaker. Once unvaccinated individuals have been infected, they can easily spread the disease to others who are unvaccinated. In this scenario, the people who become vulnerable to infection are those who are unable to be vaccinated themselves, such as very young children or individuals with compromised immune systems such as those with cancer or HIV/AIDS. While these people are protected when herd immunity is high, choosing to not vaccinate lowers herd immunity and this choice thereby puts these populations in a precarious position.
While some vaccines are typically given to young children and can only be administered once to a few times, many other vaccines can be administered to adults as well. Some diseases such as the flu are able to change enough that it is important to get vaccinated regularly in order to stay protected. Other vaccinations are important to get in certain situations. Healthcare providers can help to determine which vaccinations are appropriate for any given individual. Vaccinations have been shown to be incredibly effective at preventing disease, both for those who receive them, and those around them. Vaccines are available to UT students through University Health Services, and they are also available for a low cost in the city of Austin at various clinics.